/ 20 November 2007

Govt says arms deal clean, and that’s that

President Thabo Mbeki’s office said an investigation into the arms deal had already found no wrongdoing on the part of government, in its response to a media report that speculation over Mbeki’s involvement in the deal was ”hotting up”.

”Government has conducted an investigation on this matter and that investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of government. That’s all I am going to say,” said presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga.

This followed a report in the Citizen, based on an addendum to Mbeki’s online letter in his capacity as president of the African National Congress on November 16.

In the letter, 15 ”challenges” were posed to journalist Chris McGreal, who authored a piece for the Guardian on claims made by former MP Andrew Feinstein in his book After the Party.

According to a copy of the article on the Guardian Unlimited website, Feinstein claimed that Mbeki was involved in the ANC leadership’s blocking of a parliamentary investigation into alleged bribery by BAE Systems and other weapons firms in a massive arms deal. He also said that a deal for fighter jets was sealed after an informal chat — and there were no bids on the table.

In the online letter, titled ”What the Media Says: Lies Damn Lies”, McGreal is repeatedly asked to substantiate claims in the article, published on November 13, and is promised ”right of reply” on the website.

”Challenge # 9” refers to Feinstein’s claim that politicians decided in favour of British planes at an ‘informal meeting’ attended by Mbeki, [the late former Minister of Defence, Joe] Modise and at least one official since implicated in corruption in the deal. The BAE bid was then presented to the Cabinet for approval without any other bids on the table”.

The ANC retorted, ”The entirety of the assertions made in this passage is nothing more than a conglomeration of blatant lies. We challenge McGreal to ask his informant, Andrew Feinstein, to assist him by providing him with the single facts to substantiate the claims that McGreal chose to report approvingly.”

Although the ANC had challenged the story, the Presidency would not pursue it.

After the party

Feinstein, the former ANC leader of Parliament’s public accounts watchdog Scopa, resigned when the party moved to curtail investigations into the arms deal. He is now living in London.

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille De Lille alleged in Parliament earlier in November that she had evidence of three payments by warship supplier Thyssen-Krupp on January 29 1999, each of R500 000, to the ANC, to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and to the Community Development Foundation, a Mozambique charity associated with Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel.

The payments were allegedly made into foreign accounts with Credit Suisse First Boston.

The three entities have denied any knowledge of the payments, while Thyssen has declined to comment. – Sapa